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The moral credential effect is a bias that occurs when a person's track record as a good egalitarian establishes in them an unconscious ethical certification, endorsement, or license that increases the likelihood of less egalitarian decisions later. This effect occurs even when the audience or moral peer group is unaware of the affected person's previously established moral credential. For example, individuals who had the opportunity to recruit a woman or African American in one setting were more likely to say later, in a different setting, that a job would be better suited for a man or a Caucasian. Similar effects also appear to occur when a person observes another person from a group they identify with making an egalitarian decision.
It has been found that moral credentials can be obtained vicariously. That is, a person will behave as if they themselves have moral credentials when that person observes another person from a group they identify with making an egalitarian decision. In research that draws on social identity theory it was also found that group membership moderates the effectiveness of moral credentials in mitigating perceptions of prejudice. Specifically, it was observed that displays of moral credentials have more effect between people who share in-group status.
Brown, Ryan P.; Tamborski, Michael; Wang, Xiaoqian; Barnes, Collin D.; Mumford, Michael D.; Connelly, Shane; Devenport, Lynn D. (2011). "Moral Credentialing and the Rationalization of Misconduct". Ethics & Behavior. 21 (1): 1-12. PMC . PMID 21503267. doi:10.1080/10508422.2011.537566.